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Witness Trees Reveal Where to Restore Fire

Photo of The Monongahela National Forest is classified according to fire influence on species composition. Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy, USDA Forest ServiceThe Monongahela National Forest is classified according to fire influence on species composition. Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy, USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : To help land managers make decisions and plan for restoration of oak-dominated forests, witness trees from early surveys were used by a Forest Service scientist as clues to disturbance history. Tree species were categorized into two categories based on fire ecology and spatial interpolation of point data resulted in a usable picture of past disturbance on a complex landscape.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Thomas-Van Gundy, Melissa 
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2013
Highlight ID : 488

Summary

Understanding and mapping pre-settlement fire regimes is vitally important for ecosystem restoration, helping ensure the proper placement of fire back into ecosystems that formerly burned. Witness trees�trees listed in early land deeds from the 1752�1899 period�can can help answer questions of where to restore fire by serving as a pyro-indicator of the past. Using an existing database of witness trees, researchers mapped fire-adapted traits across a landscape by categorizing tree species into two classes, pyrophiles and pyrophobes, and applying this classification to a geospatial layer of witness-tree points centered on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The percentage of pyrophilic species to pyrophobic species was calculated for approximately 22,000 points and the values were spatially extrapolated to form a continuous cover. Analyses showed that pyrophilic percentage was significantly related to a number of key environmental factors and changed along an elevation gradient from low, dry valleys (high pyrophilic percentage) to high, wet mountaintops (low pyrophilic percentage). This approach of applying life-history traits and species presence locations represents a significant advancement in the direct use of witness trees to depict past fire regimes applicable to both Public Land Survey and metes-and-bounds records.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Monongahela National Forest
 

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